Your front lawn serves as a welcome mat to your home, and your backyard is everything from your children’s play area to the space where you entertain friends and family. Finding the best lawn fertilizer will help you maintain lush green grass that’s an inviting backdrop to any activity.
Below, we’ll show you our top picks for lawn fertilizers, as well as look at factors to consider when selecting the right fertilizer for your lawn. If you’d rather leave your lawn’s health to the experts, we suggest TruGreen as the best lawn care provider.
The Top 5 Best Lawn Fertilizers
- Milorganite All Purpose Non-Burning Fertilizer
- Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food
- Pennington Signature Series Lawn Food
- Simple Grow Solutions Micro Booster
- Turf Builder WinterGuide Fall Lawn Food
What Is Lawn Fertilizer?
Fertilizer is simply food for your lawn. Fertilizing correctly is the best way to support grass growth and foster a beautiful green lawn. It generally has three main components known by their chemical symbols, N-P-K.
- Nitrogen (N) promotes the growth and density of grass plants and helps grass stay green. Density is critical because a thick lawn doesn’t provide any space where weeds can grow. Nitrogen also encourages the production of chlorophyll, a necessary component of photosynthesis. However, if you over-fertilize with nitrogen, you can damage the grass blades. To avoid this, water after you fertilize.
- Phosphorous (P) promotes the growth of a robust root system and helps with seedling development.
- Potassium (K) helps plants fight disease and can help them withstand a dry spell.
N-P-K are known as macronutrients. Any fertilizer container will list the percentage of each in that order. For example, a 10-5-3 bag contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous, and 3% potassium. The percentage equals the total percentage of the bag (so 18% NPK). The rest of the ingredients are fillers to ensure the fertilizer applies evenly, but that percentage is the key to fertilizing your soil. Knowing the right mix will get you the results you want. Different types of grass require different mixtures, so you shouldn’t just purchase the first fertilizer you see.
Some communities have banned phosphorus in fertilizers for lawns because if it’s applied shortly before it rains, the fertilizer can be washed off the lawn and end up in a stream and eventually in a lake or river. Phosphorus can reduce oxygen in the body of water and harm wildlife, such as fish, that live in the water. For that reason, many fertilizers have a zero in the second spot of their formulation.
Think of fertilizer as a vitamin for grass. To grow grass successfully, plants need nutrients to survive. They need at least 16 different nutrients and often miss nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Grass also needs other nutrients, such as calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, although it may be able to get those from the soil. The lawn may also need small amounts of other nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, called micronutrients. All these will be indicated on the label if the package contains them.
How Do I Choose the Best Lawn Fertilizer?
Grass requires a different fertilizer than flowers, plants, and trees, so make sure you’re selecting the best lawn fertilizer for your grass. Factors impacting your soil that determine the best lawn fertilizer for your lawn include:
- Geography and the type of climate you’re in
- Type of lawn what grass seeds are planted
- How much foot traffic does your lawn experiences
The healthiest grass should be a deep green, and if you buy the right fertilizer and apply it correctly, you’ll be weed-free in no time.
Types of Fertilizers
Fertilization provides nutrients to the soil, and it doesn’t matter if you use organic or synthetic (or inorganic) fertilizer. Think of fertilizer as a vitamin. You can get your vitamins from a glass of orange juice or a pill. In the same way, there are several different categories of lawn fertilizers.
Organic vs. Inorganic Types of Fertilizers
You have to make several decisions when selecting the best fertilizer for your lawn, including whether you want to go organic or inorganic.
Organic fertilizers come from plant or animal sources, such as manure, cottonseed meal, compost, or fish emulsion. Some people consider organic fertilizers safer brands because they prefer to limit the number of chemicals their children and pets are exposed to, or they don’t want man-made chemicals washing off their lawns into creeks and rivers. This type of fertilizer usually has a lower concentration of nutrients, which often have to be converted into a usable form by microbes in the soil to become helpful to plants. That makes them slow-acting. But organic fertilizers can help improve the soil and the lawn, so they have long-term benefits.
Inorganic, or chemical, fertilizers are manufactured with ingredients such as potassium nitrate. This type of fertilizer is concentrated, and the nutrients are water-soluble, so they start feeding the grass as soon as you water your lawn. Because they are manufactured, you can be sure of the proportions of nutrients in the package, and the formulas can be specifically designed for different needs. But it’s possible to apply inorganic fertilizers too heavily, damaging the lawn.
Dry vs. Liquid Fertilizer
The form of fertilizer that has been applied is another factor in selecting the best lawn fertilizer for your needs. Fertilizers can be applied in a liquid or dry or granular form. What’s the difference?
Usually, fast-acting, liquid fertilizer speeds up your grass growth. It absorbs quickly, but that can have drawbacks, as it means you have to mow more often. Liquid fertilizer can be more expensive than dry grass food, and it doesn’t last as long as granular fertilizer. Some products are sold as a concentrate you mix yourself and apply with a sprayer, and others are in a package that can just be attached to your hose.
Because it’s made from solid materials, you can sprinkle dry fertilizer over the soil. It can last up to nine months, depending on your soil and the results. Generally, cheaper, dry fertilizer doesn’t involve mixing, and it’s pretty easy to apply the fertilizer with a broadcast spreader. After it’s applied, you usually have to water the lawn to activate the dry fertilizer.
The choice between liquid and dry fertilizer comes down to convenience and preference on your part. “The plant doesn’t care … it’s going to be the same nutrients,” according to Dr. Nick Christians, who teaches turfgrass management at Iowa State University.
Fast vs. Slow Fertilizer
You’ll find two general kinds of nitrogen fertilizers: fast-release and controlled-release. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on why you want to apply fertilizer.
This fertilizer releases nitrogen immediately and provides nutrients and immediate results, which means you’ll quickly see greener grass. It’s relatively inexpensive and works even when the soil is cold. If overused, it can burn your lawn and may cause your grass to grow faster than you want. Quick-release fertilizers can deteriorate quickly, so they may only be effective for a few weeks. This is a good summer lawn fertilizer if you need a quick fix.
Also called slow release, this type encourages more consistent growth. It is less likely to result in burn spots on the lawn. However, it can be more costly and less likely to work well when the soil is cold and you don’t get the fast greening that you might be looking for. You might also need to water the grass more frequently to see the results of slow-release fertilizers than a fast-release form of nitrogen.
Consider Your Grass Type Before Choosing
The grass growing on your lawn is a significant factor in when and how much you fertilize and what nutrients you should apply. Factors to consider include, the timing, the kind of grass you have, and the condition of your soil. You want your soil to be at least 55 degrees when fertilizing.
Two primary grasses are grown in American lawns, and they have different fertilization needs. To make things more confusing, in some areas of the country, it is common to find both kinds of grasses planted in the same yard, typically one in the front yard and the other in the backyard.
- Cool-season grasses — These types grow best in cooler areas, such as the Northern United States. Species include Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, ryegrass, and bentgrass. They stay green all year, and they like to be fertilized after the weather cools down, typically at the end of summer but before the first frost. Some people like to do lighter secondary fertilization in the late spring if the lawn looks like it needs a boost.
- Warm-season grasses — These are found in warmer climates, such as the Southern United States. Species include Bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine, and buffalo grass, which all go dormant and turn brown in the winter. Because warm-season grasses focus on summer growth, plan to fertilize them as the weather warms up. If the grass looks like it could use a second feeding, consider light fertilization later in the summer.
Testing Your Soil
To learn more about the condition of your soil—such as what your soil’s pH levels are, how much acidity is present, and what nutrients are missing—conduct a soil test.
You can purchase a commercial test (check with local nurseries) or contact your county Extension office, which might provide the service. If you do the test yourself, you’ll need individual tubes to test for the individual nutrients, and you should take multiple soil tests from different parts of the lawn to compare. Follow directions precisely so that you get an accurate reading. The results will also vary depending on the season.
These tests are easy to do and typically include the following directions:
- Dig up some soil from different areas of your yard.
- Mail your soil samples to a testing lab. The results will show you the pH of your soil and what nutrients, including the micronutrients listed above, are available in the soil.
- If your soil lacks nutrients, you can find a specialized fertilizer to help put them back into the soil.
Regular soil tests are recommended every three or so years when you have an established lawn to see if soil conditions have changed. You should also test before trying to establish a new law. If you’re trying to correct soil low in a nutrient or correct pH, it’s good to check progress with an annual soil test.
If you’d instead the professionals handle your soil analysis, suggest the best lawn fertilizer, and treat your lawn as needed, TruGreen includes a Healthy Lawn Analysis®✦ with their plans. Get a free quote from one of their representatives today.
Next Steps: Watering Your Lawn
After you fertilize, water your lawn immediately, so the fertilizer washes off the grass and into the soil. After this initial watering, the schedule depends on your type of grass and what season you’re fertilizing. Generally, your grass will need one inch of water per week following fertilization unless you’re using a slow-release fertilizer, in which case you only need to water once a month.
Consider Weed and Feed
Weed-and-feed products combine fertilizer with an herbicide designed to fight weeds. While the idea seems to save you some time and work, many experts advise against using the products. One reason is that when your lawn needs herbicide and when it needs fertilizer, it doesn’t always align. The products might not have suitable herbicides to fight the specific weeds in your lawns.
Fertilizers and herbicides also have different watering needs. Fertilizer typically needs to be watered to help plants absorb the nutrients and prevent the chemicals from burning the grass. However, herbicide works best when it’s not watered.
Weed-and-feed products also contain toxins that you might not want to expose to your children or pets. Even if you keep the kids and dogs out of the yard for a while, you could accidentally track some of the product into the house after applying it.
Ultimately, the best way to stop weeds from growing in your yard is to nurture the grass to be healthy and thick. Dense grass will crowd out any weeds that want to take hold, which is why proper fertilization is so important.
Hiring Professional Lawn Care
A lot goes into deciding how to fertilize your lawn, including the price. The average cost to fertilize a lawn is $222. If you plan to fertilize your grass yourself, know that in addition to buying the right fertilizer, you’ll need to apply it at the right time with the right tools, such as a spreader, which can get pricey. There are hand-held spreaders, but this may not be practical if you have a large lawn. Spreader costs are determined by the amount of fertilizer they hold, so the larger the lawn, the more expensive the spreader. Remember that you’ll also have to store it throughout the year.
If you want your lawn to be healthy and attractive but don’t want to apply fertilizer and other chemicals yourself, bringing in an expert is a good solution. Hiring a lawn care company can save you money, time, and frustration in the long run. By leaving it up to professionals, you can skip the guesswork and look forward to having a luscious lawn.
Why We Recommend TruGreen
When it comes to providers, Today’s Homeowner recommends TruGreen, which has been in business for almost 45 years and is America’s #1 professional lawn care company.* Whether you want fertilization and basic weed control or more extensive services, TruGreen has a plan to fit your needs. All work is performed by trained specialists who visit your home every four to six weeks, leave a summary of the services performed, and provide you with tips for lawn care between visits.
TruGreen lawn care plans start with a Healthy Lawn Analysis, where specialists will evaluate the soil conditions in your yard, the kind of grass you have, and how you use your yard to determine your lawn’s specific needs. All customers get the Healthy Lawn Guarantee®◆, with TruGreen promising to make any adjustments needed to ensure you’re satisfied, with no charge for the callback visits.
TruGreen offers various combined packages to meet your lawn needs, with 50% off your first application offer if you want more than fertilizing services.★ TruGreen lawn plans include these options:
- The TruHealth® Lawn Plan covers eight visits a year. Specialists will apply lime and a regular fertilizer regimen, pre-emergent, and targeted weed control.
- The TruComplete® Lawn Plan includes all of the above, plus an aeration service.
- The TruSignature® Lawn Plan covers all of the above and adds four visits to care for your trees and shrubs.
The exact method of lawn fertilization is a science, which is why TruGreen takes a scientific approach. They consider the “nitrogen release rate,” which means how fast nitrogen is released into the soil determines how quickly the grass will improve and how long the results will last. TruGreen offers steady, controlled feedings multiple times a year, so your soil never runs out of nitrogen, and your grass remains a beautiful, lush green color.
If you want the best lawn fertilizer services suited to your unique lawn, request a price quote for TruGreen’s services.
Read our TruGreen Review to learn more.
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Fertilizing: DIY or Hire?
If you want the healthiest, lushest lawn in the neighborhood, Today’s Homeowner recommends hiring a professional service to take care of fertilizing your lawn.
- You might save money by trying to follow a fertilization regimen yourself, but it’ll take time to determine which nutrients your lawn needs and when you should apply them. It might be costlier than you think, too. In addition to buying fertilizer, you may need to purchase tools such as a broadcast spreader.
- Incorrectly mixing or applying the chemicals could damage your lawn.
- A professional lawn service company can quickly and accurately analyze what your lawn needs. The company has access to the right fertilizer formulation for your lawn.
- You won’t have to worry about working with chemicals, and you can have your weekends free for things you’d rather do.
✦Purchase of full lawn plan required for Healthy Lawn Analysis, which is performed at the first visit. *America’s #1 lawn care company based on U.S. market share of professional lawn care companies. 2016 NorthStar Partners U.S. Share Tracker ◆Guarantee applies to full plan customers only. ★Requires purchase of annual plan. Special offer of 50% off is for first application only, for new residential EasyPay or PrePay customers only, and applies to lawns up to 5,000 square feet. For lawns more than 5,000 square feet or for the regular lawn application price for a lawn of any size, please call for estimate. Valid at participating TruGreen locations. Availability of services may vary by geography. Not to be combined with or used in conjunction with any other offer or discount. Additional restrictions may apply. Consumer responsible for all sales tax.